Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Small-Format Food Retailing Memo: A Professional Chef Turned Grocer Creates A 'Sub-Urban' Small-Format Fresh Foods and Grocery Store in Maryland USA

Small-Format Food Retailing Special Report

The U.S. economy may be going to hell in a handbasket (or perhaps shopping cart), with banking failure after banking failure, fast-rising unemployment, soaring food and gasoline prices and other assorted economic maladies, but even such tough times aren't stopping entrepreneurs from opening small-format food and grocery stores.

A case in point: Andre Cavallaro, the former executive chef at the popular Addies restaurant in Rockville, Maryland USA, recently opened a small-format food store, Sub*Urban Trading Company, in nearby Kensington, Maryland.

The food store, which is designed to look like a modern version of the old general store, takes a "green" positioning stance, offering organic fresh meats and produce, along with natural, organic and specialty food and grocery items, with a major emphasis on "locally-produced" products.

natural and specialty grocery items include oils, condiments, marinades, salad dressings and items in numerous other categories. Natural and specialty perishable items are sold in themarkets as well.

Here's what Katie R. from Kensington, Maryland recently had to say about the store in a review on the review website:

"The best word I can think of to describe sub*urban trading co. is 'yum'. Then I guess I would use amazingly fresh, organic, and friendly.

But whether I am biting into a warm rustic blackberry tart made with the ripest blackberries for breakfast or a slice of wild mushroom and goat cheese tart for lunch, all I can think of is yum.

How lucky Kensington is to have this new gourmet carryout owned and run by the friendly and knowledge pair, Andre and Alison Cavallaro.

Not only are there fresh pastry items everyday, but produce, dairy, meat, fish, baking items, and a few choice cookbooks. The fresh meats look so inviting - some marinated with fresh herbs; some small portions cooked to go. Many items are supplied by local farmers so it is worth the drive."

Utilizing his experience as a chef, Cavallaro is making fresh, prepared foods a major part of the market, which opened in August. Each day the store features ready-to-eat in-store fresh, prepared food items -- four different selections for lunch and one offering each evening for dinner. All are chef-quality prepared meals made by Cavallaro.

A Natural~Specialty Foods Memo reader who recently talked with Cavallaro tells us the four main statements the small-format food store makes are -- environmentally-friendly, organic, fresh and local.

All paper products used at the store are recycled, all plastic products used in the foodservice operation are corn-based and biodegradable, and all of the fresh produce and meats sold in the store are organic and, when possible, locally sourced.

A central feature of the market are its fresh, prepared foods to go, sales of which our reader says seem to be picking up since the store opened a little over a month ago. Cavallaro hopes to become a destination venue, where shoppers will stop in after work and pick up dinner to take home from his daily rotating menu, along with visiting regularly for take-home or take back to the office lunches.

The market is designed to be a neighborhood store; a store locals will shop daily if possible in the European tradition. Although we doubt if the owner would mind customers from outside the neighborhood.

In fact, our reader says Cavallaro had a strong following when he was executive chef at the restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, saying she expects numerous take-out prepared foods customers will stop in from there and elsewhere once they learn about the small-format combination natural, specialty and fresh, prepared foods market.

For example, Heather C from Rockville, Maryland, another reviewer on offers positive comments about the store's fresh, prepared foods, along with other aspects of the market:

"I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this place!!!!!

I've been in a couple times since they've opened and have been so pleased with the atmosphere, the ambiance, the employees/owners, and obviously the products they sell.

The former chef of Addie's, Andre Cavallaro, and his mother Alison Cavallaro, run this "green" and organic minded market. They focus on all organic, sustainable, and local products. On top of all that, all of their bags, to go containers, cups, "plastic" silverware are made from either corn or recycled products and are all biodegradable!!!

I read Libby's response, and often times I shop at Safeway and organic eggs cost $4.99 and to tell you the truth, don't even know where they come from. So I'm happy to buy my eggs at Sub Urban.

I've been telling everyone I know about this place and highly recommend it to whoever reads this!! Check it out, you won't regret those awesome peach turnovers baked fresh every morning or those kick a** savory tarts!!! (I had the beet and goat cheese one the other day....OMG!)

As we often write about, small-format stores offer much opportunity in terms of geography -- they can be located in urban, suburban or rural area -- and format. Such stores can be more upscale natural-organic-specialty like Sub*Urban Trading Company, no frills, deep disconters like Aldi or Supervalu, Inc.'s Sav-A-Lot, or in-between markets like Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Wal-Mart's soon to open Marketside and the hundreds of independently-owned small-format food and grocery stores operated by individuals, family's and partnerships throughout the U.S.

Small-format food stores, because of their smaller size and lower cost to get started, also offer an opportunity to independent and entrepreneurs that otherwise would be unable to open a traditional size supermarket because of the expense of doing so. They also are the perfect fit for natural and specialty foods stores offering a specific focus like fresh, prepared foods.

We're seeing a revolution in the U.S., as we frequently write, in small-format food and grocery stores across all formats -- from hard discount -to- upscale organic, prepared foods and gourmet (or a combination of all those) -- despite the poor economy.

The good news is that if these stores can make it now, they can make it nearly anytime. Additionally, if they do make it now, the stores will be well positioned to thrive once the U.S. economy turns around. This is particularly true for natural and specialty foods'-oriented small-format food and grocery markets.

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